I have an acquaintance who writes a blog called Snarky Senior. And boy, she has no qualms about being cheeky. It’s pretty entertaining, of course.
I’m not quite as in-your-face as she is, although I used to be when I was younger. But I found I was not attracting a lot of camaraderie with this approach, and although I am definitely not what you’d call a people pleaser, I do want people to like me and come back. In a blog, you can be more flippant, because there’s a high chance that your readers are never going to meet you, but, still, I’d like people to come back.
So the past week has been tough and I want to rant about it… and I apologize in advance for this being so long. It could be three or four blogs, but, I don’t have the energy to go back and deal with this again in a week or two and then again and again.
I remember reading in a horoscope once (yeah, I know, foolish place to get advice, but, once in a while, they are by some wild chance accurate) that I, as a Sagittarius, might want to put the breaks on my Donald Duck temper because others might not see the humor in my temporary flying feathers. That’s usually how I get mad, blustery for five minutes and I’m done. If it’s a serious issue, I’m more likely to just sit with it awhile until I know what I want to say about the irritation.
So here’s what I’ve been in the midst of for the past six days.
First of all, my brother-in-law died. This was something I should have been expecting any day; he had multiple myeloma which Kaiser had stopped treating because the chemo was no longer making a big difference. Kaiser will do that, even if there’s something that could affect a small difference; if you’re in your 80’s they kind of write you off unless you are magnificently healthy. And he had COPD and had had a heart attack about 8 months ago. But I was still shocked to hear he was gone. And of course, deeply saddened. We were friends and most of the time in the past 30 to 40 years, got along well and were affectionate with each other. He walked me down the aisle when my husband and I married nearly 25 years ago.
My sister died in 2017, and that was devastating for all of us. The last person who had known me since I was a baby, and the last person who had met and known my father in person since before I was born (she had a different dad, and she was 19 when I was born, but we were always as close as was possible for us). Since my dad died when I was almost seven, LaVonne was the only person I could ask about him after my mother died. The one thing I remember her saying was that everybody liked him and he was a genuinely nice person. That’s how I remember him, too; a milkman who helped people out when he delivered their milk, and who whistled all the time; his dad, my grandfather, whom I never met, and my mother called him The Canary.
But I digress.
I had not seen Charley for two years, because of the pandemic. He lived two hours away, and in an area that has not been well-vaccinated, plus he has family members who were there frequently whom we think may not be vaccinated. I had asked Charley if they were and he was not sure; he was not fully vaccinated because… well, I’m not entirely sure why, I think because Kaiser didn’t want to give him his second and third shot because of his tenuous health. I’m 74 and a polio survivor (which isn’t a comorbidity for Covid), so I have extreme fatigue issues, and if I got the virus it would do me in from an energy standpoint. I felt close to death with a bad flu 24 years ago and ever after, have gotten flu shots. I suspect I’d have a hard time recovering from Covid. I have one polio survivor friend who has had it and it’s been hard on him even though he’s vaccinated, functioning, and still alive.
One of the reasons we didn’t go see Charley was that one of my two nieces was dealing with the late phases of ALS in nearly all of 2020 and in her long (although not long enough) dying process, we were visiting her down in Fresno once a month for a few days, a five-hour drive for us, one way, to give her a little entertainment and company. (She passed in July, 2020, and we still went down to Fresno once in August for a few days for the service and to assist in the beginning of clearing her house of over thirty years of acquisitions.) So then to drive the two hours over to Sacramento, get a hotel, etc., was not something that would have been easy for us to do, though we could have; I would have, had I realized how much Charley was declining. My husband still works more than full-time and he lost work time during our family trips. We figured we’d see Charley when the virus subsided, which we assumed would be soonish. Of course, then Omicron reared its ugly head. We tried to arrange seeing him at Christmas, and he wasn’t feeling well then, which I somehow believed would be temporary.
So although I have talked to my brother-in-law from time to time and we were on good affectionate terms, and in our last conversation a few weeks ago he sounded really good, energetic, even, I feel bad, sad and guilty for not going over there to see him in the last year.
And this also happened…
Our yard guy, the “mow and blow” fellow, used to come twice a month for about 90 minutes to two hours. He was the main help I had; over the last 18 years he’s been quite regular, usually, except maybe once a month at Christmas when he’d go visit his family in Mexico. So I have generally done 90% of our gardening for our large garden, and he’s done that heavier duty bit of it, which was a huge help. We always tipped him well at Christmas and we gave him a cost of living raise every year. Paid him extra for extra jobs. Then he just stopped showing up this January. At this time in my life, I can’t do nearly as much gardening as I did 18 years ago, and I was flummoxed by this, that he just didn’t show up anymore. I sent his last check in late February, having finally given up, to his brother’s house, whose address I had, and wrote on the back of the envelope please mail us our gate key (he didn’t but he probably threw it out)… and thanks for all the years of service. He is painfully shy, so I get it, he just didn’t want to tell me he wasn’t coming back. He is well aware that I have a disability; I garden with a crutch in one hand, so this probably was just hard for him to confront.
So after about eight weeks of his not showing up I started scouting around for a new gardener, someone who could do more than the mow and blow and knew the following types of things: that a forget-me-not is not a weed and should not be pulled up in the winter, but only cut back, and that when one thins out Iris bulbs, that means to leave space between them, not just take a few out and sit and chat with the other guy (this happened with another landscape company that I paid, so it obviously made an impression on me; I hired them because they were supposed to know MORE than I did). And that there’s a particular way to prune hydrangeas; I hired a crew a couple of years go to do about two days of refurbishment and they ruined three of my hydrangeas; I didn’t ask them to prune them and they should have asked me first. I am still sad about losing those. Long-lived plants are like family.
I got the name of a woman reputed to be “one of the most knowledgeable gardeners in our area.” I met with her and like her, and she definitely knows gardening, and she doesn’t use Roundup like the last extra gardener I hired to do some work that the mow and blow guy couldn’t do. Well, I didn’t let the guy use Roundup, of course, but just the fact that he would was of major concern.
But in our first phone conversation she said she generally doesn’t “do” lawns and if we wanted to keep one we’d have to get our own lawnmower and she’d have her assistant do the mowing. Well, I had not expected this. I thought, maybe I can get another mow and blow guy and she could do the more nuanced stuff, which would work for me. She said she doesn’t believe in blowing other than hardscape because it depletes the soil. I think she’s right, but right after learning that my brother-in-law died I just was not in the mood to take on another major purchase and figure out where to keep it. We may do this, but, not this week, and the back lawn is growing.
She said she recommends taking out the lawns, and I told her we definitely wanted to do that in front, but in the back, we use that lawn. We sit on it, and when we have a group of people over, that’s where we are, on the lawn. Then she said, well, we could use the same (crappy, in my opinion) grass we have in front which we stopped watering years ago due to our California drought. It comes back up in the winter, and it’s tough and ugly and rough on skin, so you can’t sit on it. Our county also has a severe water shortage. We stopped watering the back lawn but it’s come back somewhat with our recent piddly rains, and we had planned to replant it last year except we had to go on serious water restriction, so tabled that idea.
The new gardener also recommended we put in a $10,000 water catchment system which would involve taking out two small trees to make room for the cisterns. And also that instead of getting rid of our downed leaves she’d like to create a place for them to decompose so we can use them as mulch, which sounded like a nice idea until I started thinking where we’d put the pile, and it also sounded like a compost pile which I definitely do not want to maintain.
Did I mention that my husband does NO yard work? He is willing to put the piles of debris I create when I do the gardening into our green bins, wheeling them to the back yard and then back to their position at the side of the garage. And that is it. He, as he puts it, hates to sweat. A computer guy to his core.
So I began thinking perhaps too many big ideas too soon are being offered for our garden, especially THIS week. I’m working with this new person and we’ll see how it goes. I do hope for the best, but I may need to hire another mow-and-blow person in addition to this much more knowledgeable person. I’d be OK with that. I’m not yet sure if she would agree to that.
If all of that were not enough, our homeowners association has been taken over by two malcontents who are intent on disbanding it, and there are a lot of reasons we need it. They also spent $32,000 getting legal counsel on why their particular unit of houses should only pay $20 a year instead of the $183 the rest of us pay. That seems to many of us like throwing good money after bad. And the HOA is the only body with clout that we have to make sure no one puts a second story on a house next door that could look into one’s yard and windows. It’s in the agreement one makes when moving into this neighborhood, which is what has kept the area lovely, quiet and our gardens and homes getting enough sun for over sixty years. Yes, it’s not a cheap area, and also not gated or anything like that, it’s just 250 homes which have an agreement not to let the fronts get trashy with old defunct cars and not to build out in a way that is a problem for neighbors. It’s a friendly neighborhood, but in the last couple of years it’s been hard to get volunteers to be on the board and keep things running. So these two people took over and are trying to decimate it and spend down the savings of the organization as they go.
A group from about 20 houses is in the process of finding out if people really want to keep the protections we have in place and operate again like a real neighborhood. And my husband and I are in that group. But it’s emotionally frustrating to go to a Zoom “meeting,” as was held four days ago (this was the day after I learned about Charley), where the two “board members,” who are married and represent only one house, would not let us see any of the other participants or let any of us speak until a brief fifteen minute period at the end, where we still could not see anyone except the two who were essentially giving us a lecture on why they spent all our money and that “they don’t know many people who want to keep the HOA going.” They were also quite insulting in some respects about those of us who had written letters saying we didn’t like what was going on. It was maddening. So, that happened.
And another thing.
I have a shoulder that has been giving me some pretty intense pain. I tore the rotator cuff in this shoulder nearly four years ago. It was sore and partially torn in April 2018, from doing some digging in the garden (I have not used a shovel since then), and then I stumbled (this is common for a polio survivor with a mostly paralyzed leg) and hit my forearm on a counter in June, which tore the darn thing almost completely away from the bone. I had my first book launch with my arm in a sling. So I had surgery in October, 2018, after many months of barely being able to use that arm and being in some very serious pain every day. A doctor friend unhelpfully told me it probably would have gotten better without surgery, but I really do not believe that. Not a 90% tear.
It took me two years to recover from that surgery, to get about 90-95% full range of motion back, and be in almost no pain (at least, in that area). Recently I pulled up a few weeds, probably more than I should have, and the ground was not loose because we’ve had so little rain that I really had to yank at them, and then realized I probably should not be doing that. A few days after that, I started having pain in that shoulder, and a couple of weeks ago, it was bad, like, feeling like someone was poking a nail into my shoulder when I tried to do specific things like reach out and up or down; putting on shoes, reaching for a light switch, pouring a tea kettle. The basic things I have to do on a daily basis.
I got an appointment with an orthopedist’s assistant and she ordered an x-ray and an MRI, which was what I wanted, so that was useful. She said she thought it was bursitis and because I seemed to have good range of motion, that it wasn’t torn. Well, those motions she put me through didn’t really touch the few positions where it makes me gasp and cry out, and then it hurts for a good long while and I can’t use the arm.
The MRI came back on Friday (after the frustrating homeowners’ Zoom) and we got to read the report before I saw the orthopedic doctor. It was scary, with words like “severe osteoarthritis” (I had been told there was NO arthritis in that joint 3 years ago), tendinosis (which is permanent inflammation and damage to a tendon), mild bursitis (if this is mild, God help the people for whom it’s severe), a 20% tear in the rotator cuff, and tendinitis (temporary inflammation that can usually be healed). And, for an especially frightening effect, the anchor my now-retired orthopedic shoulder doc hammered into the bone so he’d have something to sew the tendon to has lifted up out of the bone maybe 30%.
Yesterday, Monday, I saw the orthopedic doc who is in charge of surgery for this firm and also is a shoulder expert. I had seen him 3 years ago and thought he was very kind, gentle, and took the time to explain things to me thoroughly. I would not have known he was the same person yesterday. Curt, in a hurry, and said, quickly, “You have three choices: physical therapy [hurts too much to do that and afraid of further injuring it], medical intervention such as a shot, or surgery. Which do you want to do?” My first response was “I don’t know! I don’t want to have surgery; it took me two years to recover.” He answered that this one would be much quicker, to hammer the anchor back down and they’d be able to see what was going on in there, and I’d be able to use my arm the next day, not two months later. I sat there unsure how to respond. Then he noticed my crutch and said, “What’s the cane for?” and I told him I was a polio survivor. This is in my file, my chart, and I recently saw his colleague for a broken foot which could not be fixed with surgery because of its post-polio condition. I naively had thought he’d look at my whole file with the polio stuff prominent in there. So he said again, curtly, you have three choices and reiterated them. I said, deliberately, “Yes. I heard that.” And then said I’d get the shot. He said OK and left the room for about five or ten minutes and came back with that big syringe.
I’ve had cortico-steroid shots before and I knew this was going to hurt, deeply. It did, as he pushed the needle in deeper and shot some more of the pain reliever in there. I moaned, and when he took the needle out, I started to sob. That got to him. I told him through my tears that part of what was going on was that it was so scary to have things going wrong and not know how my future is going to play out, with injuries and arthritis and all of it.
He softened, and said, “I know. I just turned sixty, and I see what my parents are going through, and I see that that is my future, too. You have had enough, with polio and these other injuries; it’s a lot.”
I told him, “Yes, I’ve been through a lot in my life,” and left it at that. I didn’t mention the previous surgeries or the life of living with a paralyzed leg or the discrimination or the twenty people in my life who have died in the last two years, not one from Covid. My brother-in-law, my very close girlfriend, my dear cousin in Canada, another old friend of over 50 years… the list is much too long. I didn’t say, “Yes, I had breast cancer years ago, too.” I didn’t mention that I’d broken my foot last year and was on crutches for two months and still barely able to walk for another two weeks after that. I didn’t need to, he could see the mountain I felt like I was carrying on my shoulders.
I got a new computer installed yesterday, and now I can’t find anything and all the programs have been revised in their formatting, “updated” as some young well-meaning IT person would call it. I lost it today when I could not get Slack to work; it’s a meeting and discussion platform our homeowners are using in order to have a place to talk about what we’re going to do, without giving access to the Two Bad People. I was just sent over the top after six days of Just Too Much to Handle, and blustered a lot for five minutes. I didn’t scream but I yelled and was a little hoarse for a couple of minutes. This was sandwiched in between managing a housecleaner, doing a seated Tai Chi zoom where I learned that the only chair I could use gives me a backache, and just before I facilitated our writing group Zoom. My husband knows this is my I Hate Computers and New Applications rant, and snapped at me a little and then fixed Slack for me. I later thanked him profusely and apologized for being Donald Duck.
I wish I were snarkier sometimes, but it never worked really well for me. I wish this were more amusing, this story, and that it were shorter.
But this is just this one week. Next week I’ll be in less pain, and next week the homeowners will meet without the two insurrectionists, and maybe next week there will be some progress for the Ukrainians… that has weighed heavily on my heart as well, even though we donated to aid organizations. It felt like a Bandaid. (I’ve had the thought more than once that I wished someone would take Putin out.) Maybe next week the garden stuff will result in a lovely plan. Maybe next week my husband and I will go somewhere fun… maybe even this week, other than taking ten boxes of old financial records to be shredded. Well, that could be fun if we went out to lunch afterward. Maybe next week the Omicron cases will have gone down in our area. In a few weeks we’re flying to Toronto for my dear cousin’s memorial and there will be music and his five kids and lots of grandchildren and his lovely wife who is my friend. And then we’ll go see nieces and a friend in New York and New Jersey.
I’m always telling people, you have to keep looking out the window, when they say, “What’s your advice, as a person who’s lived with a lifelong disability?” Looking at what’s next. At what is beautiful. Toward the place where you will see your friends and relations, soon.
As one of my women’s circles always closes: “Blessed be.”